Venus & Ulysses 2004

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06/12/2004: "Two Excellent Dinners"

Like I said in my last post, our first dinner in Ireland was nothing special, but it was certainly expensive. The last two dinners were also expensive, but they were much, much better.

Patrick Guilbaud is a French restaurant in Dublin. Basically, it's a little piece of France inside Dublin -- I don't know if you can count it as a restaurant in Ireland. Like restaurants in Guadeloupe, which use French chefs with local ingredients to make lobster in vanilla sauce, Patrick Guilbaud's French chefs make meals inspired by Irish traditional dishes. We had the "Sea and Land Menu", a nine-course succession of exquisite little tastes leaving us full but not uncomfortably so. All were impeccably executed, though some were in our view a little oddly conceived.

The first course was "oyster in stout jelly". An oyster was in a little glass filled with jelly made with and tasting strongly like Guinness, with oyster foam on top. Bitter is not really the best flavor to go with oysters, but the maitre d' assured us that oysters are very popular with Guinness in Ireland. It was followed by cockles and mussels (fortunately not alive, alive-o) in a nice cream sauce, and then by "bacon and egg", a little patty of cabbage-and bacon salad topped by slices of a terrine with crubbeen (braised pigs' feet, bacon, and smoked pork), with a quail egg on top.

The main courses were rabbit with mushrooms; fish and chips (which seemed a little saltier than they needed to be); and some perfectly cooked little pieces of lamb served with Irish "colcannon", mashed potatoes with parsley.

Dessert included a tray of candies; another little glass referring back to the oyster that was a white chocolate foam on top of a coffee/whiskey jelly; a little patty of lime mousse surrounded by strawberry slices topped with whipped cream; and five little pieces of chocolate.

We had four different glasses of wine which were excellently chosen by the sommelier.

It was definitely one of the best dinners we've ever had, and by far the most expensive -- $460 for the two of us including tax and tip. We'll see if the food we have in France proper can come close.

Last night we went to the Ballymaloe House, near the ocean outside of Cork. It's a respectable estate and golf course, and it's a cooking school, lodge, and restaurant. It had a prix fixe menu which was about half the price of the night before but which encouraged us to eat more than we actually could.

The opener wasn't on the menu -- a buffet of hors d'oeuvres which, as it turned out, on Fridays includes a bunch of local seafood brought in, including two kinds of mussels, oysters, smoked fish, smoked eel, smoked salmon, crab mayonnaise, lobster vol-au-vent, deviled eggs, and some salads.

The menu included a soup course, a main dish course (we had venison and cod) served with the new potatoes we'd seen advertised on roadside stands all the way there, a cheese course, and a dessert course. By the time we were finished we could hardly move. Perhaps the two half-bottles of wine didn't help.

The food preparation wasn't stellar like the previous night, but the restaurant did serve as an excellent showcase for the local seafood, vegetables, and cheese.

Anyway, enough about food. Yesterday we walked around the Powerscourt Gardens south of Dublin, 46 acres of formal garden that looked and smelled beautiful. It was your basic raincoat-and-sunglasses kind of day, with constant changes in temperature and precipitation as little rainclouds drifted in front of the sun.

Last night we stayed at the Sunville B&B, a house in a completely idyllic setting with rolling green hills in every direction, cows and chickens, and flowers and trees everywhere. If you're ever near Cork, go stay there -- the owners are very nice and the breakfast is great [oops...]

Today we head to Killarney and expect to see more idyllicly beatiful Irish countryside at every turn.